Sunday, July 8, 2007

54. On the Origin of Tuned Pipes Music Theory and Language -- part 2

I have made, elsewhere, the argument that musical "tonemes" can be regarded as closely equivalent to linguistic "phonemes." The tonemes are already, by theoreticians, called "pitch classes," and the phonemes could, via a very precise analogy, be called "vocable classes." (See my paper, "A Field Theory of Music Semiosis," in Eunomios -- .) Semioticians refer to this "emic" level, which controls how we hear the basic elements prior to putting them together into meaningful words, as "second articulation." What is truly remarkable is that both music and language (and its derivatives, such as various types of writing) seem to be the only types of communication/expression having second articulation. Paintings don't have it, photographs don't have it, motion pictures don't have it, etc. It is also of great interest that language also has first articulation, i.e., the ability to articulate "morphemes," such as words, that carry denotative meaning -- and music does not.

This suggests to me that music may have been prior to language, a necessary step in its development, by means of which a basic refining process, from the raw acoustics of the "etic" to the refined, culturally conditioned tonemes and phonemes of the "emic," took place. And the development of tuned pipes shows all the signs of a passage from the "etic" to the "emic" of precisely this kind. Once humans began making sounds perceivable as discreet pitches, that could have been the beginning of an emic awareness that could have led to language and all the many other elements of culture, from kinship systems to mathematics. The beginnings of music in the hocketed interplay of newly discovered "tonemes" could have served as a kind of laboratory in which second articulation was experimented with and refined.

There is more -- because, as I argued in an earlier post, tuned pipes also represent a system of music notation, which is already a kind of language. When a single pipe is understood as standing for a particular toneme, it is functioning as a signifier, with the toneme as its signified, in which case we have a complete sign system, if not a fully functional, syntactially organized language. But there again, music, which has been described as the syntactic art par excellence, might have had much to contribute in that realm as well.

So, according to my myth, or my hypothesis, as you prefer, what was invented when the "Yellow Bell" was first created was not only tuned pipes, and the theory of their tuning, but, at the same magical moment, enough of what was to become language as was necessary to produce such a theory.

(I NEVER said this was going to be easy.) :-)


Brodie said...

I think your "myth" here is quite plausible and the progression you suggest makes sense to me. I was curious what thoughts you may have on how tonal languages and whistled languages might fit into the later picture of musical and linguistic development? I know you touched on tonal languages and tonogenesis (or tonoexodus as you put forward) in early posts and other writings.

To me it seems like the logical development, as you've described, would be shouted hocket --> interlocked hocket --> single-pitch pipes and yodel --> panpipes and basic musical theory starts to form, also influencing development of language --> tonal language and later musical styles --> non-tonal language and yet later musical styles. Am I somewhat correct in what you are hypothesizing?

DocG said...

Yes, Brodie, I think this is more or less what I have in mind. If you do a search on "whistle" you should find some discussions on whistle languages here as well, which imo are highly relevant. If it's possible to convey complete thoughts only by whistling (and it is), that tells us that music alone is enough for language to exist -- though probably not for more complex and nuanced types of communication.